Kasich plan good, but needs more accountability, flexibility

Yesterday was the first day of public testimony on Governor Kasich’s budget proposal before the Ohio House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Terry submitted testimony on behalf of the Fordham Institute, as did Students First and others.  Following is a good recap from Gongwer News Service:

Terry Ryan, vice-president for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, offered support for the budget, saying the funding offered through the formula would outpace that of almost every other comparable state in FY 14. He also offered suggestions for use in the budget or as the subjects of future legislation.

Firstly, he said all dollars should follow students to the schools they actually attend, but funding is still stuck in categorical programs and flows to the district but not necessarily the building attended.

Mr. Ryan also called for annual academic return on investment reporting for all public schools, both districts and charters. "Just as some districts are more productive than others so are some schools and these should be acknowledged and better understood," he said.

More mandates related to regulations, laws and contract should be eliminated if they force funds to be spent in certain ways in all schools regardless of student characteristics. He said the flexibilities of the Cleveland Plan should be expanded to all districts.

Like the administration, Mr. Ryan said the state should move away from hold harmless provisions and guarantees "that provide funding to districts for phantom students."

"An obvious downside to such policies is that they support schools losing students at the expense of those gaining students," he said. "In what other line of business do organizations get funding for customers they no longer have?"

Lastly, Mr. Ryan called for annual student report cards for private schools that receive more than 30% of voucher-bearing students. "Schools that receive publicly funded students need to be ranked by their performance so that both parents and taxpayers know what is working and what isn't."

Greg Harris, StudentsFirst state director for Ohio, said the national school choice advocacy group supports principles in Gov. John Kasich's funding plan including an emphasis on equity, flexibility, and accountability.

The group supports the parent trigger expansion for the lowest 20% performing schools but recommends that the option of reopening the school as a charter be limited to those authorizers with a demonstrated record of success in the state.

As to the administration's plan to provide $100 per charter student for facilities, Mr. Harris said the allocation should be greater. Massachusetts, for example, funds charter students at $1,200 per pupil.

"If we cannot deliver this amount for all charter schools right away, then you might consider providing greater facilities allowances for highly rated charter schools," he said. "This way they can more rapidly replicate their successful educational models and enroll more students who otherwise are forced to attend bad schools."

Rebecca Sibilia, StudentsFirst vice president for fiscal strategy, said the hold harmless and budget inflation cap of 10/25% creates a tension between "districts that have the most to gain and those that have the most to lose."

The governor's proposal indicates any districts that would gain more than a certain threshold of funding through the current formula would be capped in growth, she said. "This means that inequities on a per-student basis may continue to exist in this transition phase. We remain optimistic that the governor and the legislature will commit to rightsizing inequities either in this or the coming fiscal years, so that all students get an equal footing on which to start."

Ms. Sibilia said the governor's plan would provide "regressive" funding for English language learners of $1,500 for their first year in the country with a 25% reduction each year after.

"This assumes that every ELL child will get to grade level English proficiency by their third year of education in the US - regardless of the quality of education that they receive," she said. "We believe there may be implementation challenges and potential inadvertent underfunding of students with English language needs.

StudentsFirst also advocated for an increase in the $500 per pupil for economically disadvantaged students.

Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow for Innovation Ohio, said the Achievement Everywhere plan is "flawed." The proposal's treatment of property value per pupil has almost nothing to do with the true property wealth disparity in the state, he said. For some districts, looking at the per pupil valuation overstates or understates the property wealth.

He also said it is troubling that the administration has said the formula did not try to calculate a per pupil amount that provides for an adequate education. He argued the $5,000 per pupil is in fact that number in the proposal, which is the lowest amount since the 2002-03 school year.

"The governor's office seems to be arguing that they are now trying to equally distribute an inadequate amount of resources," Mr. Dyer said

You can read Terry’s full testimony here, and the budget analysis that informed it (conducted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s Paul Hill) here.

 

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